Clashes between the Nigerian Police Force and Islamist fighters from a group known as Boko Haram have left over 150 dead and hundreds arrested after two days of fighting in northern Nigeria. The Islamist fighters have been targeting police headquarters in retaliation for the arrests of some of their members and restrictions in allowing them to publicly practice their religion.
Fighting began early Sunday when hundreds of members of Boko Haram, “armed with guns, bows and explosives,” marched to the police station in Dutsen Tanshi in Bauchi and attacked it, causing policemen to flee. The Islamists ransacked the station before a distress call brought reinforcements from Police Command Headquarters. Police fought the attackers, resulting in the death of over 39 Islamists with 200 members arrested following raids on known hideouts.
On Monday, in the city of Maiduguri in Borno state, hundreds of civilians fled their homes as the Islamists responded with an assault on the police headquarters leaving over 100 dead, mostly Islamist fighters, in the clash.
Another police station was set alight and razed to the ground during fighting between police and Islamists in the city of Potiskum in Yobe state. Presently, police confirm that two people were killed and 23 were arrested. Eyewitness reports say Islamists chanted, “God is great” while attacking the station and setting it on fire. The attacks in Potiskum and Maiduguri occurred almost simultaneously.
Meanwhile, clashes between Boko Haram fighters and the Nigerian Police Force resulted in three people killed and 33 more arrested in Wudil, 12 miles from Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria.
There are also reports of the bombing of a police station in Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state, according to a national police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu.
A curfew has been declared in Bauchi from 9pm to 6am. Mallam Isa Yuguda, the Governor of Bauchi, is urging Nigerians to see Boko Haram as a national issue and said that “governors should brace up and clean their states of this rubbish.”
Ustaz Mohammad Yusuf, the proclaimed leader of Boko Haram and a cleric in Maiduguri, said the group’s disagreement is with the government and threatened a “war” if their demands are not met.
“We don’t have a quarrel with the public, only the authorities,” Yusuf said. “Democracy and the current system of education must be changed otherwise this war that is yet to start would continue for long.”
National police chief Ogbonnaya Onovo strongly condemned the group as being “fanatical” and vowed to dismantle the organization and its safe havens.
“This is a fanatical organization that is anti-government, anti-people,” Onovo said. “We don’t know what their aims are yet; we are out to identify and arrest their leaders and also destroy their enclaves, wherever they are.”
A Fundamentalist Doctrine
Boko Haram, which translates to “education is prohibited,” is also known by its Arabic name, Al Sunna Wal Jamma, or the “Followers of Mohammad’s Teachings.” The group was founded in 2004 in Kanamma village in northern Yobe State, which borders Niger. Many members of Boko Haram are disgruntled youth, many whom are former university student dropouts and disillusioned graduates.
The group conducted similar, but less bloody, assaults on police stations during New Year’s Day 2003. The group’s silence has helped keep them out of the sights of local authorities for the last few years, allowing them to expand as poverty and lack of economic development has frustrated the youth in northern Nigeria.
Even though sharia law has been enforced more strictly in the 12 predominantly Muslim states of northern Nigeria since 2000, Boko Haram demands a “full Sharia” adoption of Islamic Law in the 12 states of northern Nigeria. The group seeks a ban throughout Nigeria on Western education, culture, and science that the group deems sinful; and, contrary to its name, the group aims to provide Islamic schooling as the only form of education to the public.
Abdullah, a member of Boko Haram, told Reuters that the group intends to “clean the (Nigerian) system which is polluted by western education and uphold the Sharia all over the country.”
The root of the upsurge in violence was attributed to the police by Boko Haram members, who decided to retaliate after accusing authorities of arresting the group’s leaders. Boko Haram blames the authorities for not allowing it to propagate its beliefs. The government canceled numerous demonstrations in Bauchi because it fears that Boko Haram’s fundamentalist doctrine, if preached publically, could cause sectarian violence.
Nigeria is almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, and the communities typically live side by side in peace, but sectarian violence between Muslim and Christian communities has been an ongoing problem. Over 10,000 people have been killed because of sectarian violence in Nigeria since 1999, after the military junta handed power to civilian leaders. Last year, sectarian violence flared over local election results in Jos, the capital city of Plateau state, resulting in 700 killed. In addition, 5 people were killed in religious clashes in Bauchi in February.
The locals and Western media alike have called Boko Haram the Nigerian “Taliban” due to its strict fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia and the Quran and intolerance of differing religious theology. In 2003, Boko Haram openly demonstrated its support for the Taliban when it briefly flew the Taliban’s black flag after attacking and occupying a police station in Kanamma.
Video of violence in Nigeria, from Al Jazeera English:
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